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Inspiration for Shaw memorial

Charles A. Smith.
Charles A. Smith.

Inspiration for Shaw memorial

It’s easy to pick out Colonel Robert Gould Shaw in the Shaw memorial, across the street from the State House, but what about the African-American soldiers he led into battle during the Civil War? Who were they and what are their stories?

Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens drew on a photograph for his depiction of the white central figure, but he based the soldiers of one of the first regiments of African-Americans on men he recruited to pose in his studio.

More than 100 years after the memorial was dedicated, the public is being invited to take a look at photographs of the soldiers and learn about their lives. There was Henry Augustus Monroe, a star pupil in his all-white class in New Bedford who enlisted at age 13; Sergeant Major Lewis Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s 22-year-old son; and Charles A. Smith, a Montrose, Pa., laborer. Theodore J. Becker, 32, a physician from Fitchburg was the regiment’s hospital steward.

“Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial,” an exhibit that pays tribute to the more than 1,500 soldiers and officers who served in the regiment between 1863 and 1865, is on display until May 23 at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The exhibit originated at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which published a companion book bearing the same title, co-authored by curators Sarah Greenough and Nancy K. Anderson.


The Shaw memorial.
The Shaw memorial.Massachusetts Historical Society

The book examines how the Shaw memorial has influenced the depiction of war and looks at the racial terror that African-Americans faced long after the Civil War ended. In 1897, when the monument was dedicated, black men were being lynched in record numbers.

Among the soldiers in the 54th Regiment was Private George W. Dugan, identified in the new book “Concord and the Civil War” (History) as the only African-American from Concord to serve in the war. A farmer and a widower who enlisted at age 44, he was listed among the missing after the storming of Fort Wagner in Charleston, S.C., on July 18, 1863. Two hundred and seventy-two of the regiment’s 600 troops were killed, wounded, or captured in that attack — among the dead was Shaw. Author Rick Frese cites President Abraham Lincoln’s statement that the 180,000 black troops who fought on the Union side tipped the balance.


The public is invited to meet the civilian re-enactors who belong to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Company A on March 29 at 1 p.m. at the society.

Lost memories

Northampton resident Su Meck was 22 and the married mother of two toddlers when a ceiling fan fell on her head and wiped away all her memories. Following the traumatic brain injury she suffered about 25 years ago, she had to start from scratch, learning her colors and shapes along with her kids. With the help of Washington Post journalist Daniel de Visé, she tells her story in “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia” (Simon & Schuster).

Coming out

■  “Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters” by Diane Jacobs (Ballantine)

 “The Undead Pool” by Kim Harrison (Harper Voyager)

 “I Can See Clearly Now” by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (Hay House)

Pick of the week

Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., recommends “The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly” by Sun-mi Hwang, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim (Penguin): “A bestseller in South Korea, this story of a little hen and her desire to fly is about striving for what you want, overcoming hardships, and realizing your dreams, even when those dreams are not fulfilled in the way you had planned.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.